Opportunity Doesn’t Knock… it Rings the Doorbell

I can honestly say that I never once in my life pictured an afternoon spent researching the history of the doorbell. But, it’s still cold outside (surprise, surprise), so what else am I going to do? Clean? Yeah… right.

Recently, local Belleville history enthusiast and President of the Belleville Historical Society Larry Betz contacted me and my husband saying he had something of ours. He went on to explain that it was the original doorbell to the Romeiser house. When we met up with him, he explained further.

The house has been mostly occupied since it was built in 1887. The Romeiser family owned it until 1919 when it was sold, converted to a boarding house, and then later changing hands a few times over the years. When the house ultimately ended up in foreclosure in the early-20aughts, the house was essentially emptied. The fact that so much of our beautiful architectural details survived that time is impressive to me. Larry told us how he came in and was able to procure the home’s original doorbell and he’s been holding on to it ever since. He expressed how it was time to return it to its rightful place on the walls of this incredible home.

The doorbell itself is, at its core, simple, though advanced for the time. The fact that the Romeisers even HAD a doorbell is impressive. However, knowing how Peter Romeiser was at the forefront of basically every advancement and was a very progressive thinker, I’m not surprised. His store, The Romeiser Company, changed the way businesses operate. He was one of the first merchants to use a set-price model for his items… the price you see on the tag is what you pay, no haggling. His store was the first in Belleville to use interior electricity. We know for a fact he had a home telephone in 1906– if not earlier. He saw the value in invention, the beauty in progress, and he wanted to be a part of that.

We fully believe this doorbell is original to the home’s construction. (It looks almost identical to this image I found on Wikipedia of an 1884 doorbell from Budapest.) 640px-Lakáscsengő_-_Andrássy_út_94_szám_II._emelet_2_ajtószám_(1)Simple clapper doorbells work through high-school science. When you push the button, you complete an electrical circuit. This “push-to-make” switch powers a hammer that rings a bell. My husband (you know, the one I previously mentioned who just knows how to do everything? Yeah. Him.), he totally got this thing to work while tinkering with it down in the basement. We may wrap our heads around REALLY getting it to work but for now will still display it lovingly.

I am so thankful to Larry for thinking of us and being so devoted to preserving history and saving the details of these old homes. Without his dedication, this piece of Romeiser house history would likely be lost today and we’d have had no way of knowing it ever existed.

His work with The Belleville Historical Society, along with the work of other members, is inspiring and exciting. And it’s for those reasons that I’ve decided to partner with them and join as a member. I’m also really thrilled to be able to announce that they’ve nominated me to a position on their Board of Trustees which was approved at their membership meeting last week!

The way that the pieces of my life have fallen into place within only 7 months of moving here is nothing less than extraordinary. The ways in which people have embraced us and supported us and encouraged us to get involved have made us feel more at home than any place we’ve lived in a really long time. I am practically buzzing with excitement over the possibilities and wondering what the future holds; it’s exactly the kind of life I pictured for myself when I was a little girl.

To check out what the Belleville Historical Society is all about, visit their website and consider joining or donating! So here’s to many, many more years researching Belleville homes and families, and preserving those stories for years to come. Even if it means spending an hour reading about doorbells.

The Belleville Library: Part II

Last week, we introduced you to the connection between the Romeisers and the Belleville Public Library. Missed the first post? Check it out here!

And here… is the rest of the story.

At the end of Part I, you learned about how monies from leftover Romeiser Company stock had been donated to the library by Peter’s children. It was the first public donation made to the library and (in today’s terms) totaled upwards of $20,000.

On the 2nd floor of the library hangs a portrait of Peter. There is a small mark in the corner designating the photographer (Strauss of St. Louis) and the year, 1917– the year after his death. The library was constructed and dedicated in 1916 and the donation from his children came shortly thereafter. It only makes sense that this print was made specifically to be donated to the library along with the endowment funds. It is the only actual photograph of him we know to exist… everything else is either a drawing or a newspaper printing.

IMG_5667
Forgive the glare… with all the windows, this was the best we could do. 🙂

The library is filled with photos depicting prominent people and events in Belleville’s history. After spending so much time there, Mr. Brick and Maple and I just all of a sudden realized that of ALL the photographs hanging, Peter’s was the only one without an information marker. All the others have little placquards explaining their significance.

Well, if you know anything at all about me, you know that just didn’t sit well. So, I reached out to the library director to see if they would allow us to donate a plaque with a description of Peter and why he’s so important. We were thrilled when Mr. Leander Spearman, Director of the library, agreed!

As it turns out, there was no plaque next to Peter’s photo because there never HAD been one. Mr. Romeiser’s significance, his story, his family’s involvement in the development of the library, had all been lost to time. Mr. Spearman went on to explain that the portrait– Peter’s portrait– has remained somewhat of a mystery to the entire staff.

Today we were able to deliver the plaque to the library and have this small part of the Romeiser’s story saved for generations to come. We were also able to submit a blurb for the library’s new website and newsletter and have been asked to compile an informal book to add to the library archives for posterity.

 

It’s these kinds of passion projects that I absolutely LIVE FOR. I spend everyday excited that we can contribute in this way, that we have a small part in making sure no one forgets.

Next time you’re at the library, pop up to the second floor and say hey to Peter. You’ll know it’s him by his smile lines and the kindness in his eyes.

Until next time,
The Brick and Maple Family

The Belleville Library: Part I

Located on E. Washington Street, the Belleville Library was constructed in 1916 by way of a $45,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation. Over the course of his adult life, Andrew Carnegie made it his personal crusade to build libraries all over the world. All said, Carnegie spent $55 million to build 1,679 libraries in the United States and 830 abroad.

library
Belleville Public Library

During the library dedication ceremony on January 20, 1916, then-board director Jacob Aull encouraged all Belleville residents to thank Carnegie by sending him letters and postcards. (Photos of library dedication courtesy of the Belleville Historical Society)

Other than an addition made to the building in the 1970s, the original building stands almost unchanged. Updates and upgrades have been made throughout the years but otherwise, she stands just as she did in 1916.

Here’s where the Romeisers come in.

When Peter died in 1916, he left a detailed Will & Testament. Everything was covered from the house and land all the way down to each share of company stock. He divided up 300 shares amongst his children and left a reserve for philanthropy. His daughter, Emma, spearheaded the idea that the remaining children (herself and her three brothers Theodore, Edwin, and Alvin) use that reserve to make a public donation to the library.

News Article

The amount at the time, $1,680, was the first public donation to the Belleville library and equates to more than $20,000 in today’s terms.

Emma wrote a letter to Charles Grossart, who took over The Romeiser Company after Peter’s death, about what to do with the funds. Her letter reads:

“My dear Mr. Grossart,

After months of pondering what to do with the money father left as a reserve, I have finally decided that a book shelf in the Public Library as an “In Memoriam” for father would be best of all. Alvin, Edwin, and Theodore are all agreed that it would please father. In this way, the money would be put to a fine purpose and serve to keep green his memory in the town in which he was so much interested. The best kind of monument.

The details and arrangements, I’m afraid, I must leave to you. After the stock is sold and the money available, would you still be willing to act as trustee of the fund until it has been used up? My idea is that from time to time books of real value shall be added to the library, fiction excluded. Books perhaps like Carl Sandburg’s ‘Abraham Lincoln’ and Emil Ludwig’s wonderful ‘Napoleon,’ books that will be permanent additions to the library. Of course a library committee must be appointed and I would be pleased to have the list submitted to me if possible.

Please let me know what you think of the plan, and what you would suggest in the matter. With greetings from all here to you and your family.

Sincerely, Emma Pannes.”


The connection between the Romeisers and the library doesn’t end here… there’s a second part to this story that I’ll be covering next week. So be sure to hit ‘subscribe’ and check back next week for Part II!

Stay sweet,
The Brick and Maple Family

“Belleville, Illinois, Illustrated”

Published by the Reid-Fitch Publishing Company in St. Louis in 1905, the ‘Belleville Illinois Illustrated’ book is a fantastic depiction of Victorian life in Belleville.

It features text and photos of all the prominent businesses, structures, and homes in Belleville while also providing a little bit of history.

I was so excited to find not one but TWO photos of The Brick and Maple!!

AbendOLD (1)

Zooming in, it’s incredible to be able to see old stained glass windows, the original porch, the horse hitching post, and how much land they owned before selling the neighboring parcel around 1919. This is also likely the personal horse and carriage of the Romeiser Family. By searching old Sanborn fire maps, we know there was a carriage house constructed with the home in 1887. According to stories from neighbors, it may have stood even up until the 1990s. It looks as if Peter Romeiser himself is sitting in the carriage! 

sideold (1)

The entire digital version of the book is available online and is a fun way to spend a chilly Friday morning! Check it out here!

Enjoy!
~The Brick and Maple Family

Music Room Facelift!

Because Pinterest is really French for “You Can’t Sit Still,” I am constantly taunted by exquisite home decor pins. When I stumbled upon one of a room painted Hague blue, I just knew I had to had to HAD TO have one of my own.

I’d been toying around with the idea of redoing our computer and music room so when we de-Christmased and I was staring at an awkwardly empty bay window, I knew now was the best time.

Check out the space before:

It was perfectly functionally but a bit… boring. There was no spice, no flavor, nothing bold. I didn’t feel like I’d injected any personality into the room whatsoever.

But now? Ohhhhh NOW it is warm and pulled together and cohesive and I am SO happy I went with such a bold color.

Enjoy these after shots!

I used Sherwin William’s Showcase ultra deep base paint-and-primer in “Narragansett Navy” and updated the radiators with Rustoleum’s Hammered Copper.

Design accents came from Target (their Project 62 line is to die for! Lamp, side table, and succulent are all Project 62), TJMaxx (throw, gold photo frame, and yellow flowers) and Amazon (rug, Persian Rugs Distressed 4620; shelf, Yaheetech). All the other design elements are antiques that I’ve collected over the years. The National Geographic Magazines belong to my great-grandmother Jennie and are all from the 1950s!

I am so beyond pleased with how this turned out… I can’t stop staring!!!

Let us know in the comments below… what’s your favorite feature?!

Note: I have no affiliate relationships with any of the stores or brands mentioned in this post!

Til next time,

The Brick and Maple Family ❤️

If Walls Could Talk…

Earlier this week Husband found our first artifact of any real note! In the walls of the 3rd floor, we’ve found things like a pair of pants, an old broom handle, a single baby shoe. (Which isn’t creepy AT ALL…) But this is different and special and OLD.

Monday Hubs was crawling around with our son just poking around the house. The lower half of the wall all around the 3rd floor is wainscoting and there are little doors throughout that open onto a perimeter crawl space, just wide enough to explore.

They found this old bottle!

In doing research (mainly through this edoc from the Society of Historical Archaeology), we discovered this is an old soda bottle from the Belleville Glass Company. The A. Koob (and A.K initials on the bottom) stand for August Koob Soda Works.

Belleville Glass Company was founded (under the Belleville Glass Works umbrella) in 1882 by your Belleville big-hitters. Locals (and readers of some past posts) will recognize these names: J. Eimer, J. Fuess, F. Sunkel and E. Abend. The new firm issued 250 shares of stock at $100 each and by November 1882, the plant was churning out 14,000 bottles a day. These bottles were used for soda and beer.

By 1886, the plant would be purchased by Adolphus Busch of Anheuser-Busch fame. Our bottle bears the A. Koob engraving which points a bit to the year it was made. Now, there’s not a ton of info out there but we did find a document that states that Koob purchased the soda works from Louis Abegg in 1879 and operated it until he died in 1888.

So Koob brand soda was bottled using Belleville Glass Company bottles and this would have had to have happened sometime between 1882 (when the glass company was made) and 1888 (when the soda company was sold). Since our house was built in 1887 and we found this up on the 3rd floor, perhaps it was a refreshment for some hardworking home builder?

An exact version of this bottle sold on eBay for $31 whole dollars. We’re rolling now, y’all! Obviously we’ll never sell this but will happily display it in the home we so lovingly occupy.

Til next time,
The Brick and Maple Family ❤

Help Wanted!

Wow…! Talk about being woefully behind on my posting schedule. Life has been absolutely crazy!

My last post was about the Belleville Luminary Walk and it turned out to be a HUGE success! We had well over 500 people come and tour the house between 5-9pm, then afterwards we went to a neighbor’s house for the after party. After nonstop planning, decorating, and cleaning for what felt like weeks, we finally sunk into our beds at about midnight.

The craziness didn’t stop there, though… because we had secretly been planning a vacation for our two sons and had to be at the airport at 7am the next morning. We took a Christmas trip to Universal Studios in Florida to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. After the insanity of getting ready for the Luminary Walk, it was nice to have some family time in the Sunshine State. Our 5 days there flew by and then it was time to come home.

After our trip, life didn’t necessarily calm down. I hosted book club, we had Christmas, the next day my Grandma (Christmas Carol to our boys!) flew in from Michigan, the day she left we hosted family from Arkansas for New Year’s, and then the day they left we ended up a sick house with strep and ear infections. We are only just now recovered and back to the grind of school. Things haven’t slowed down and so that’s my excuse. Life has gotten in the way of posting.

Which brings me to my point… these two Help Wanted adverts from lady of the house Elise Romeiser. She posted for help with cooking and laundry in 1908 and then again in 1912. That’s a girl after my own heart right there.

wantcolumn

Bees Laxative? …as sick as we were, I’d try it. I’d have tried anything.

wanted!

So who’s moving in to do my laundry for $5 a week? That’s about all we could afford too, Elise!

There will be a longer update coming soon… I just had to pop in and say a quick hello! I hope your holidays were memorable and you’re living your best life in 2018!

Stay sweet,
The Brick and Maple Family ❤